Fight­ing for truth

Ja­panese oc­to­ge­nar­ian bat­tles to spread knowl­edge of Unit 731

Global Times - Weekend - - FRONT PAGE -

“As long as I’m still alive and able to talk, I won’t stop telling the truth and ad­vo­cat­ing for peace,” said Ja­panese Yam­abe Yukiko. The 89-year-old is one of the few Ja­panese who are now shar­ing the his­tory of Ja­pan’s no­to­ri­ous past in China. Yukiko is at­tempt­ing to spread knowl­edge about Unit 731 – a part of his­tory de­nied by the Ja­panese gov­ern­ment. Unit 731 of the Ja­panese Im­pe­rial Army was no­to­ri­ous for its atro­cious and lethal chem­i­cal ex­per­i­men­ta­tion on Chi­nese and Rus­sian peo­ple. It’s a sub­ject rarely touched on in Ja­pan and au­thor­i­ties there are ea­ger to cover up this part of the coun­try’s past. Sit­ting in a wheel­chair, Yukiko re­cently came to Changchun, North­east China’s Jilin Prov­ince to share sto­ries of Unit 731 to­gether with other Ja­panese ac­tivists. Be­cause of her ad­vanced age, she is wor­ried this could be the last time she comes to China to share this as­pect of his­tory. Be­fore com­ing to Changchun, she re­ceived sev­eral abu­sive calls from Ja­panese right-wing mem­bers, but this didn’t dis­cour­age her.

“Ja­panese peo­ple need to fight to­gether with Chi­nese peo­ple (to re­veal the truth), oth­er­wise we can’t sleep in peace,” she said.

But so far, the Ja­panese gov­ern­ment has not apol­o­gized or ac­knowl­edged their ter­ri­ble deeds. “This is a great blow to us,” she said.

Link to China

Yukiko was born in Ja­pan in 1928. She came to China with her mother in 1941 to join her fa­ther, who then worked in an iron com­pany in Liaon­ing Prov­ince.

Af­ter Ja­pan was de­feated in World War II in 1945, the then 16-year-old joined the North­east Demo­cratic Al­lied Army, a former branch of the Com­mu­nist Party of China (CPC)-led Peo­ple’s Lib­er­a­tion Army (PLA) to fight the Kuom­intang army.

Yukiko said that a pot was the rea­son she joined the PLA rather than the Kuom­intang army. Both Kuom­intang troops and the PLA vis­ited Yukiko’s house and took a pot. When Kuom­intang sol­diers left, they smashed the pot, but Com­mu­nist Party sol­diers re­turned the pot as promised and gave the fam­ily food to ex­press their grat­i­tude.

“My fa­ther then told me I should join an army like this,” she said. She then joined the North­east Demo­cratic Al­lied Army as a nurse and fought side by side with her Chi­nese coun­ter­parts in Guangzhou, South China’s Guang­dong Prov­ince.

Yukiko re­turned to Ja­pan in 1953 af­ter serv­ing eight years in the Chi­nese army. In the early 1980s, she read a story about Unit 731 in Peo­ple’s Daily when she vis­ited Changchun.

“I was then in Changchun, and I read the se­ri­al­ized ar­ti­cles (about Unit 731) every day at the post of­fice. Are the Ja­panese so ter­ri­ble? Is this real? These ques­tions kept haunt­ing my mind in those days,” she said.

To seek the truth, she first went to see the site of Unit 731 in Harbin. Un­able to af­ford to stay in ho­tels, she went to Hei­longjiang Uni­ver­sity, where she stud­ied Chi­nese and con­ducted re­search on Unit 731.

Yukiko ini­tially had doubts about this his­tory, but they grad­u­ally dis­ap­peared af­ter she saw Chi­nese la­bor­ers who were forced to work for 731.

She then re­turned to Ja­pan to talk with sol­diers from Unit 731 to col­lect ev­i­dence, but most of them kept quiet be­cause they were or­dered not to talk. Yukiko later set up an as­so­ci­a­tion to raise aware­ness of the his­tory of Unit 731 among Ja­panese peo­ple.

In 1993, Yukiko hosted an ex­hi­bi­tion on Unit 731 in Ja­pan. She show­cased ma­te­ri­als that told the his­tory of the unit, what they did in China and how they killed peo­ple in their lab­o­ra­to­ries. She has or­ga­nized dozens of sim­i­lar ex­hi­bi­tions in Ja­pan.

The ex­hi­bi­tions have at­tracted many peo­ple, but right-wing el­e­ments al­ways came to thwart her ef­forts.

When the Chi­nese guest Yukiko in­vited was giv­ing a speech in the ex­hi­bi­tion hall, right-wing ex­trem­ists sent peo­ple to yell out­side that Chi­nese peo­ple were here to in­sult Ja­pan. Their voices were so loud that the au­di­ence in­side could barely hear the speech.

Some­times, there were even di­rect con­fronta­tions, she said.

Spread­ing the word

Yukiko said that it’s dif­fi­cult to find in­for­ma­tion re­lated to Unit 731 in Ja­panese text­books, as only a small num­ber of teach­ers are will­ing to teach this for­got­ten his­tory to stu­dents. As a re­sult, only a small num­ber of Ja­panese youth know about it.

Alarmed by this wide­spread ig­no­rance, Yukiko now de­votes all her en­ergy to telling Ja­panese peo­ple about this his­tory. “I don’t care what hap­pens to me. I am in my 80s and don’t need to worry about find­ing a job,” she said.

To get enough fund­ing, she sold her house and used the money to help pre­serve the site of Unit 731 and record the tes­ti­monies of its vic­tims.

Due to the ef­forts made by Yukiko and oth­ers, some changes are tak­ing place. Re­cently, a doc­u­men­tary shown on TV by NHK, Ja­pan’s pub­lic broad­caster, trig­gered heated dis­cus­sions and prompted peo­ple to re­flect on the coun­try’s mil­i­tary his­tory.

Ti­tled “The Truth of Harbin Unit 731,” it re­vealed the crimes com­mit­ted at the unit, in­clud­ing bi­o­log­i­cal and chem­i­cal war­fare re­search. The doc­u­men­tary in­ter­viewed peo­ple in­volved in Unit 731 who broke their si­lence in Ja­panese na­tional me­dia.

In Yukiko’s eyes, Unit 731 is a na­tional crime to which more at­ten­tion needs to be paid.” The most im­por­tant thing is that the Ja­panese gov­ern­ment should ad­mit their fault and apol­o­gize to the vic­tims,” she said.

CCTV video Pho­tos: VCG, a clip of

Gas masks and other equip­ment used at Unit 731 are ex­hib­ited in Harbin, Hei­longjiang Prov­ince. In the box: Yam­abe Yukiko

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